Archive for the 'General' Category

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The language of priorities. What we talk about when we talk about infrastructure

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Infrastructure is a grand word.  Politicians use it with a grandiosity to match.  Ever since Augustus boasted that he found Rome made of brick but left it made of marble, rulers and politicians have most prized projects that leave a lasting impact on the minds of their subjects.  You can’t blame them.  There’s a glamour about a plutonium-powered hyperloop that impresses the general public in a way that upgrading the sewerage or incremental improvements to public wifi speeds will never manage.  So if you’re a politician looking for electoral bang for your buck, you’re going to look for something with as high a public profile as possible.

The needs of politicians are not necessarily the same as the needs of the country.  For example, Harold Wilson no doubt thought that securing victory in the Hull North by-election merited the pledge to build the Humber bridge.  Its value as an infrastructure project, however, is questionable. 

The finite resources of government provide a curb to the vote-buying antics of politicians.  They also require politicians to choose where to invest in infrastructure: unlike the caucus race, not everyone can have prizes.  There are going to be winners and losers.

Both questions – where to invest in infrastructure and which projects – can be and are analysed by reference to economic return.  These figures are much considered in private and barely discussed in public.  Why?  Because the answers they produce are extremely awkward politically.

How so?  Well, Vulcan logic tells you that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  That means that projects in areas where the many are found are almost inevitably going to look like a better bet.  Similarly, projects in areas which are economically thriving are often going to be easier to justify on economic grounds because the greater initial economic wealth of the area requires only a small uplift from the project to count, while a much poorer area might require a far bigger uplift from a project to get to the same absolute level of improvement.   

So we would expect, all other things being equal, for London in particular to do very well indeed out of infrastructure projects, other large successful cities to do well too and for large poor sparsely-populated areas like the north east to do poorly.  And that is, pretty much, what we get to see.  There’s a reason why Heathrow’s new terminal is being given the go-ahead at the same time that the train network in the north is in chaos.  There’s a reason why Crossrail 2 is on the agenda at a time when the TransPennine Express upgrade is apparently being shelved.  Economically, developing infrastructure to support London should be the overwhelming priority for Britain.  Successive governments have tacitly accepted that priority.

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.  This is good scripture but bad politics.  So you get regular justifiable complaints about the metropolitan bias of infrastructure projects (and silly comments like the tweet from IPPR North, who really should know better).  An economic approach which focuses on single projects will inevitably tend to concentrate infrastructure spending in London and other successful cities.

This cycle can only really be broken if government looks at projects not just on a piecemeal basis but as part of a wider development plan for an area.  There are plenty of past examples of the government trying to do this.  This is the thinking behind the introduction of metropolitan mayors, of the Northern Powerhouse and development areas in general.  With few exceptions – ironically, the obvious one, Docklands, being in London – these have not been pursued so far with sufficient consistency and sense of purpose to be effective.  At best they have broken the fall.

If no action is taken, economics will in practice ensure that by default infrastructure spending will be focused on the successful areas of Britain in general and London in particular.  Success will breed success.  Less talked about, failure will breed failure.  Poor rural areas and smaller towns can expect to be left behind.  They already have been.

What can be done?  If allocated infrastructure budgets are not just administered but controlled at a regional level, we have the prospect of revitalising those regions.  As already noted, the metropolitan mayors no doubt hope to achieve exactly that – they all have a 30 year investment fund.  Whether that is enough to turn things around, time will tell.  The Northern Powerhouse seems to be falling by the wayside as a project.  This threatens to be a serious missed opportunity to galvanise a part of the country that could sorely do with a protective coating to prevent further rusting.

That also leaves a lot of areas – a majority of the country – which are having their infrastructure needs dealt with on a piecemeal basis.  As things stand, their decline looks almost inevitable.  If you don’t live in or near a successful large city and you don’t live in a tourist area, the government is failing to prepare for you.  So you should be prepared to fail.

Alastair Meeks




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Teams from Remain areas once again dominated the Premiership and it will be even more the case next season

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Yet again sides from Leave areas get relegated

The 2017/2018 English Premier League season came to an end yesterday and the above chart shows the final rankings linked to the Brexit referendum Remain shares.

As can be seen the top half of the table is almost totally made up of sides from places where there was a high Remain vote while the bottom is dominated by team where Leave did best.

With three Leave area sides being relegated to be replaced by possibly two from Remain areas the trend will be even more striking.

In its own way this very much reflects the Remain-Leave divide that exists and continues to overshadow our politics. Inevitably the top most financially powerful teams are in the big metropolitan area while the weaker teams are in smaller centres which are less wealthy.

In the 2016/17 the Premiership was made up of ten sides from leave areas and ten from remain. That moved to an eight-twelve split in the current season which could be six-fourteen from August.

Mike Smithson




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The Palace is laying the groundwork for a Regency

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

The Queen won’t abdicate but she might still retire

The beauty of the Commonwealth lies in its pointlessness. Far from being a hindrance, the fact that it doesn’t have a purpose is a feature, not a bug. No-one is being swept along by ‘the Project’ and rarely does anyone expect anything from the two-yearly get-togethers – and that lack of clear agenda, combined with an informal atmosphere with leaders parted from advisors and officials, is what can create the space to nudge international discussions on one topic or another in a positive way – such as the focus today on addressing poor vision among the world’s poor. The meetings are in that sense rather like a working funeral, except without the need for a death.

This one, as well as the generalised statements of intent, did take a decision: to appoint the Prince of Wales as its next Head, in due course – an ambiguity we’ll come back to. Such a decision was necessary because the role isn’t officially hereditary: a technical nicety the media have fixed on while ignoring two more important aspects of the story. Firstly, the timing. There was no need to appoint Charles (or anyone) today. With most jobs, the normal process is to wait for a vacancy and then decide who’ll fill it. The variance from that norm here is worth commenting upon. And secondly, the Queen herself openly lobbied for the role to remain tied to the crown. When someone who for over sixty years has studiously avoided any public political involvement chooses to proactively engage in a political process, we should take notice.

In fact, the tie to the Crown might not be quite so tight. This is where it might get intriguing. I wonder whether she might be planning on retiring from the Headship of the Commonwealth. While it is undoubtedly a role that means a lot to her, it’s also one that she’s not really able to physically fulfil. She hasn’t made an overseas visit since 2015 (to Malta) and is unlikely to do so again. While she can – and does – send her children and grandchildren abroad to represent her, it’s not quite the same.

    Now that the succession as Head of the Commonwealth has been assured – and because that role isn’t officially tied to the Crown, so could be given up by her without it impinging on her coronation vows – she could stand down and formally hand it over, while still remaining queen.

To do so would obviously be a huge marker in a transition process. Yet that’s a process that’s been underway for some time and with good reason. Today is the queen’s 92nd birthday. It’s easy for our familiarity with her on our TV screens and internet pages to obscure that fact but she is a very old lady whose job requires her to work hard. Certainly, she has a lot of support in her duties and in her private life, and she seems in good physical and mental shape. Even so, she’s at an age where the average person has long since retired. Indeed, she’s at an age where the average person has been ten years dead.

The general assumption is that retirement is not an option: her coronation oath is literally sacrosanct, as, to almost the same degree, is the promise she made on turning 21 to devote her whole life to the people of Britain and the Commonwealth. However, that devotion can take a number of forms and none of her vows explicitly prevent her from handing standing aside, should the burdens of office become too great. Indeed, arguably, they could be said to require it.

We are not at that point now but I do think plans might be being put in place to at least make it an option in the future. After all, if Prince Philip can retire, and if several monarchs from across the world, from Spain to Japan, can do so, why not her too?

What won’t be on the table is abdication. Apart from the connotations with Edward VIII, there would be too much of a problem with Commonwealth countries: each one would require an Act of Parliament to alter the succession in that manner. By contrast, the ‘soft retirement’ option of a regency need only affect Britain: the queen’s role is carried out in all her other realms by the relevant governor-general, something which could happily continue irrespective of her personal status. There are, of course, negative associations both with a regency and a Prince Regent too but events would overcome the former while the latter title need not be used.

Whether or not such an arrangement comes about, it seems clear that the transition of royal duties is accelerating. When the next CHOGM takes place in Rwanda in 2020, I would not be at all surprised to see Prince Charles open it as Head of the Commonwealth, irrespective of whether he is yet king or not.

David Herdson



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Into the political void opened between Brexit Tories and Corbynite Labour there came … no-one

Saturday, April 7th, 2018

What’s happened to the Others?

“Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government!” David Steel’s rather premature exhortation to his activists at the 1981 Liberal Conference is remembered – to the extent that it’s remembered at all – as a classic example of over-optimism verging into hubris. It shouldn’t be. For a brief moment, there really was a genuine chance that the old Lab-Con dominance had been broken. At the last poll before the conference, the SDP-Liberal Alliance had pushed the Conservatives into third place; by the end of the year, they would record an astonishing 50.5% with Gallup.

As we know, that surge would prove ephemeral – they were already on the slide before they were overwhelmed the next year by the Falklands factor – but when the Alliance score settled down, it did so into the low-20s that would be a decent benchmark for the Lib Dems through to the point when they finally succeeded in entering government. It did, however, prove that there were a huge number of people willing to support parties other than the old Big Two, even if in the end they didn’t actually do so.

Furthermore, as the years went on, and other parties such as the Greens, UKIP and the SNP became stronger, the narrative of the breakdown of the Two Party System became an acknowledged truth. By 2010, the share of the two big parties was down to 65%.

And then something odd happened: the smaller parties suddenly lost half their votes. That of itself wasn’t all that odd: the combination of the Coalition and Brexit was always likely to prove extremely challenging for Lib Dems and UKIP respectively.

No, the odd thing is that despite the political world moving on at an unusually rapid pace, despite Labour being led by an over-promoted rebellious far-left backbencher, and despite the Tories being headed by an chief administrator rather than a leader, Labour and the Conservatives continue to poll 80-85%. Even with all the opportunities of those circumstances, the rest have made no impact as all.

Why so? One obvious answer remains that the other parties remain unusually irrelevant. UKIP might have been struggling for a purpose even if it weren’t so chaotic and rudderless – though we shouldn’t be too certain on that point: the government’s Brexit is likely to take longer, cost more and be softer than many Leave voters would have liked. A well-run UKIP could have made something of that, though it wouldn’t have the same potency as advocating Leave itself; Europe remains a niche subject.

And just as the Tories have adopted UKIP’s central policy, so the Greens have found Labour tanks all over their lawn (and one or two of Michael Gove’s too). It’s not at all obvious what Caroline Lucas offers that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t.

But the biggest conundrum is the Lib Dems. As in the 1980s, the drift of the two larger parties to their respective outer wings should be an opportunity for them, yet their poll rating has more-or-less flatlined at around the 7% they scored at the 2017 election. The Coalition might be part of that explanation but at best it is only part of it. From around December 2016 through to the end of April 2017 – after the general election was announced – the Lib Dems averaged around 10-11%. This was in the same May/Corbyn/Brexit/post-Coalition era we’re in now (apart from the collapse of UKIP: that didn’t happen until the 2017 election was called). If people were being attracted back to the Lib Dems then, it can’t be that a legacy of the Coalition is putting them off now; we have to conclude that it’s some other pull factor keeping them with the Tories or Labour, or some new push factor keeping them from returning to the Lib Dems again – or both.

We can explain a good deal of the Lib Dems’ decline during the 2017 campaign in terms of voters who’d previously defected from Labour returning to that party. What’s harder to explain is why neither they (nor other members of Labour’s coalition), nor Tory voters from 2017 have switched since. Apart from in a few pockets, it seems that Tory Remainers have gone straight to Labour, despite Corbyn’s own ambivalence to Brexit (and indeed, his other policies). The unexpectedly quiet leadership of Vince Cable can’t have helped.

Perhaps also, the changed nature of the Lib Dems is also a factor. It’s been much remarked that more than half of Labour’s membership has joined since 2015, so changing greatly the internal dynamics of that party. But the same is true of the Lib Dems too. I wonder whether the new members are not the same sort of pavement politicians who traditionally built up the Lib Dem profile locally, and that the enhanced membership numbers isn’t translating into community action.

    For all that, I don’t think it can go on. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum – and a big gap in the centre with the Lib Dems on 7-8% is near-enough a vacuum. What I’m not so sure of is what fills it.

One possibility is that the Lib Dems themselves do, for which they’d have to win votes from both Tories and Labour.

Another is that in a re-run of the 1980s, a new SDP breaks off from Labour: that’s far from impossible but nor should we get carried away by speculation. Emotional and practical ties bind MPs of all parties to their movement.

A third possibility is that the Tories make a pitch for the ground. For all the talk of the Tories heading to the right, when it comes down to it, there’s only really Brexit which stands that contention up; on domestic and fiscal matters, the Tories are, if anything, drifting left. If May or her successor can make good on the intentions she laid out when she entered Downing Street, it’ll impress a lot of centrist floating voters – though that means not getting too distracted by Brexit or allowing it to undermine taxes excessively, as well as tackling and making progress on difficult and ingrained social problems.

And the final (and least likely) possibility is that Labour does, as Blair did. It might seem implausible now given the left’s ascendency but sometimes the wheel turns quickly and one thing about short-term members is that disillusion can easily turn to departure, from where many things become possible.

The problem is that none of these look particularly likely and yet surely something has to give, somewhere.

David Herdson



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A message to political leaders – Remember, you are mortal.

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Curiously, the reasons why some political leaders fall from office is linked to what was once their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Callaghan’s closeness to the unions was seen as one reason why he (rather than the confrontational Heath or strident Castle) would be better able to reach a workable accommodation with them, to the country’s benefit. Having undermined the “In Place of Strife” proposals it was poetic justice that it was the unions’ behaviour which destroyed his (and Labour’s) USP, forever associating the Callaghan premiership with the Winter of Discontent. Similarly, Thatcher – a politician priding herself on speaking up for ordinary taxpayers – was brought down her hubristic refusal to understand the outrage and sense of unfairness which the poll tax (an attempt to protect her beloved ratepayers) engendered.

And so to two apparently very different politicians: Blair and Corbyn. Blair’s USP was that he seemed like a trustworthy “one of us” ordinary guy, able to understand the desire for a nice house, better car, foreign holidays, unthreatening to those with assets and comfortable with the modern globalising world. Out with beards, scruffy dressing, Conference motions and old-fashioned socialism. In with branding, pledge cards, multi-culturalism and investment in public services. In the words of Rupert Everett, we could now enjoy “all-day drinking in our burkas”. Blair may not have been Labour born and bred (no Welsh mining valleys for him to reference in his rhetorical flourishes) and was perhaps more admired than loved but he was a winner.

And yet, even then, there were signs that he was rather more evasive, more slippery, less trustworthy than the image so carefully created and nurtured. When questions were raised about whether Labour policies had been changed to suit one of the party’s funders, he told us that people thought he was a pretty straight sort of guy. And then he confirmed to us that he was indeed such a guy.

He was satisfied he was honest so no reason for any of us to question the truth of what he told us. And, indeed, no-one did and anyone who tried was simply not listened to. But in that indomitable self-belief lay the hubris which eventually brought him down.

Even more worryingly, the cult of Blair – the belief that he was a winner, that there was no alternative – and that any questioning of his policies and motives was unacceptable – meant that when, finally, Blair’s beliefs finally met reality (in the Iraq war, the revelations of how the intelligence dossier had come about, the unquestioning support of the US, the apparently casual approach to the war’s legality) the betrayal and loss of trust was (and is still being) felt all the more keenly.

Corbyn’s view of Labour and personal style are diametrically opposed to Blair’s vision. His USP is socialism, old-fashioned campaigning and a principled – and very British – concern for the underdog and oppressed. It is this last which, his supporters say, explains his unfortunate tendency to be so often found in the company of or supporting those with some very unpleasant Fascistic, even Nazi-like, views, situations from which he requires the sort of careful extraction usually reserved for unexploded WW2 bombs found decades later.

In truth, Corbyn’s sympathy for the oppressed is a very qualified one. His sympathies are engaged most actively when people are oppressed by those he dislikes most. And those he dislikes most are Western imperialists and colonialists. A cynic might say that it is really the oppressor which matters to him not the victim. (The former can do nothing right; the latter nothing wrong.)

Like most politicians, he believes in dialogue with even the most unpleasant of opponents (Putin, Assad) and with anyone in order to achieve peace (hence his meetings with Hamas, a designated terrorist organisation) but curiously this privilege is not extended to those he disagrees with (“criminal” Israeli politicians, in his words, for instance). There was little sympathy for the Yazidis or Syrian or Iraqi Christians or those children poisoned by Assad or those oppressed by the Taliban. Nor in earlier years for Northern Irish Protestants killed by the IRA or Jews killed by Palestinian terrorists nor for Bosnian or Kosovan Muslims oppressed by Serbs and (eventually) rescued by Western imperialists. Still, the country has had enough of foreign interventions and Corbyn’s refusal to agree that the UK must always intervene and follow the US’s lead is popular and may also on occasion be right, however mixed or morally dubious his motives may be.

Like Blair in his prime, Corbyn’s followers will brook no dissent, no criticism, no scepticism, no forensic scrutiny. Corbyn is a good man and therefore there must always be an explanation which exculpates him, even if it makes him look like a simpleton who cannot see or read or understand what is in front of him.

The alternatives – that he may not be quite as good as he – or his supporters – think, that he can be as evasive and untruthful as most politicians or that even good men do bad things are not to be borne. The latest row about Labour anti-semitism is fundamentally seen as a PR issue, to be cured by statements rather than actions, let alone a smidgen of self-criticism or changed behaviour.

Does this matter? Probably not, electorally at least. As Mr Weinstein might ruefully observe, moral compasses are not needed by the powerful or those on a winning streak. And they can be seen as an unhelpful irrelevance to those keen for a change of government.

Corbyn dominates his party; he has been more electorally successful than many imagined; he may well end up PM. Who needs criticism, especially from those who are not true believers?

But the risk is that one day – like the Blair his party no longer cares for – his self-belief, his Nelsonian blind eye to any faults in those he campaigns for or alongside, his flexible principles, his faithful supporters’ aggressive silencing or cowing of critics, his Chamberlain-like belief in the value of dialogue even with those acting in bad faith may come face to face with reality and prove his and the Labour party’s undoing. And, possibly, the country’s.

Cyclefree



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MPs’ proxy voting can and should go further

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

Catering for extended absences would mean fewer by-elections though

Parliament took another small step towards the 21st Century last month, when it voted without opposition to allow MPs who are new parents to nominate a colleague to cast proxy votes on their behalf, meaning that they can more meaningfully take maternity or paternity leave without having to worry too much about the effect that doing so would have on the government’s majority.

Some might argue that MPs occupy an unusual position that’s not comparable to normal jobs; that they are elected by their public and have not only a mandate but also a duty to represent their constituents. As such, giving their vote to a colleague abdicates that responsibility and undermines democracy.

There is a little in that argument but surely the stronger point is that parliament should ideally represent the country at large. Two under-represented groups are women and the under-35s and making Westminster more family-friendly might address some of the structural reasons that result in those imbalances.

However, if parliament is going to consider the principle that someone who wasn’t elected to represent a given constituency can cast votes on behalf of the MP who was, why limit it just to sitting MPs? After all, much of an MP’s job is done outside the voting lobbies – receiving and responding to constituency mail; tabling questions, amendments, EDMs and so on; speaking in the Chamber; serving on Select and other Committees. Some of those roles could be filled by either the MP’s office acting on an understanding of what the member would want, and for the larger parties, many points that a given MP might make could likely be made by a colleague but that needn’t be true for smaller parties, for example.

Also, why limit the proxy system to just parental leave? Sheffield Hallam effectively went without an MP for several months when Jared O’Mara went on what amounted to a self-declared long-term sick. His case might have been a little unusual in its specifics but it’s far from unknown for MPs to function at far below the normal capacity due to illness, particularly where it’s a terminal one but also when the MP might be recovering from a serious accident, illness or other medical event. On the one hand, their constituents deserve representation; on the other, it simply might not be possible or if it is, it might be unreasonable to expect it.

One argument would be that MPs in such positions should resign and let someone who can do the work take over. But such a case ignores both a basic humanity and also practical politics. MPs are unlikely to resign where they think their party might lose the seat – especially when the numbers in parliament are poised as the currently are. Also, where the MP recovers, or expects to, it’s both unrealistic and unreasonable to expect him or her to resign.

It’s not unreasonable, however, for the voters to expect their voice to be heard in Westminster. How to square the circle? I’d suggest that it ought to be possible for an MP to nominate a substitute to act as a proxy, with full powers and for up to six months at a time, subject to a confirmatory vote in the Commons. That condition might give a little scope for mischief but there would have to be some sort of check on the system.

The limited proposals for parental leave are a good baby step in the right direction but they could, and should, go a lot further.

David Herdson





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Given the appalling weather let’s be thankful that yesterday wasn’t a general election or a referendum

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

There were 4 by-election taking place local councils yesterday and the results should make interesting reading because these happened on the worst Thursday for the weather across the country in decades.

Who would have thought, for instance, that one of the biggest Premier League matches of the season, Arsenal vs Manchester City, would take place in what appeared to be a half empty Stadium. A lot of people with tickets, and they are not cheap at the Emirates, simply didn’t turn up.

If people who had laid out possibly three figure sums on tickets for a football match were deterred from attending what are the chances for participation in an election in such conditions.

The one result that we’ve got from Devon the turnout was just. 12.4% and my guess is that quite a lot of those votes would have been postals.

This is a reminder why the machines of all the parties love postal votes which can all be handled in advance and take away the risk that something might deter voting on the day.

The weather has forced Downing Street to shift the venue of today’s big TMay speech from Newcastle to London.

Whenever there have been studies on the impact of the weather on election days the analysis has shown that it has had very little impact. But yesterday clearly was something very different and far worse.

Mike Smithson




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Alastair Meeks gives his thoughts on university pensions

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

My first boss was the source of many wise words, some of which I use to this day. “Alastair”, she would often say, “there is no problem in the world that cannot be made to go away with money”. It’s not strictly true, of course, but it is truer more often than is usually appreciated.

That was 25 years ago, at a time when pension schemes almost all had surpluses and the question I was most commonly asked was what the employer and trustees needed to do with it. Nowadays, most pension schemes have deficits and the pensions problems that I am asked to advise on often revolve around how best to deal with the funding hole. This is far more fraught: If you don’t have money, problems don’t go away anything like as easily.

University Pensions deficit

There aren’t many pension schemes bigger than the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). And the deficit of the USS is correspondingly gargantuan: It was most recently estimated at £6.1bn. That’s the sort of number that would make anyone blanch. To put this in context, the Scheme had assets of £60bn, giving the scheme a funding ratio of 91% on these assumptions. But, on the assumptions previously used, the deficit was estimated at £12.6bn. We are talking huge numbers here, and they are significantly influenced by what actuaries decide they feel comfortable with at any given moment.

Changes proposed

Against this background, the employers are proposing benefit changes for future service, bringing final salary benefits to a close for future service from 1 April 2019 (at the earliest), and introducing a money purchase benefit that would be considered generous by most standards.

These proposals have been agreed with member representatives. However, as the current strikes show, some member representatives seem to be out of step with large parts of the membership. For now, the pension scheme members seem to have the students firmly on their side in principle, with over 60% supporting their actions.

Dispelling the myths

It’s time to despatch a whole shoal of red herrings. First, the salaries of vice-chancellors are not going to plug this gap. Their combined annual remuneration represents a tiny rounding error compared with this deficit.

Next, the proposals for future service are not going to plug the existing deficit. The past and the future are two different things. The past service deficit cannot directly be used as a justification for these changes. That hole still needs plugging, regardless of what is done for the future.

Next, there is nothing inherently bad about money purchase. In fact, for some USS members, particularly younger members whose career trajectory is unlikely to be stellar, the changes might well represent an improvement for them in the short term at least. Defined benefit schemes give cross–subsidies all over the place, with the bulk of the cost of future service provision going towards providing the benefits of those close to retirement. Some of the younger employees on the picket line might reasonably ask themselves who they are striking for. It’s also worth noting that the oldest employees also have little to fear – they’ve already substantially completed their accrual of benefits. The group who really get clobbered are in their 40s and early 50s.

And finally, many bystanders, many of whom curiously do not have final salary pensions, have developed schadenfreude at the very definition of ivory tower elitists being confronted with this change. But USS’s own figures show that on average this is a big hit for employees. USS estimates the present cost of future final salary provision at 37.4% of payroll (of which the employees pay just 8%). The future service money purchase benefits are 17.25% or 21.25% of pay (of which employees would pay 4% or 8%). Treating pension as part of the pay package, this means that members are being asked to swallow a cut in their remuneration of, on average, over 12%. Anyone else care gladly to volunteer for that?

To date, the employers have not proposed any kind of transitional measures. Age discrimination laws make targeted assistance difficult, though not impossible. And the members might also focus more on the funding of the past service deficit. A pension promise is all well and good, but it needs the funds to back it up. Right now, the USS still has a substantial deficit. And there isn’t the money immediately available to make that problem go away.

Alastair Meeks